LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Thursday, 26 June 2014

15 Facts about Philip Astley, the Father of the Circus


Philip Astley's open air amphitheatre






2014 was the 200th anniversary of the death of Philip Astley, the trick horse-rider regarded as the father of the circus. Here are 15 facts about the man who first brought together equestrian displays, acrobats, strongmen and clowns in the circus ring.


1 Philip Astley was a cabinetmaker’s son from Newcastle-under-Lyme.

An illustration from
Circus Mania
2 He was born on 8 January, 1742.

3 He was a sergeant major in the Fifthteenth Light Dragoons.

4 Astley’s first displays of trick horse-riding were in the open air at Half Penny Hatch just south of Westminster Bridge in London.

5 His wife Patty provided musical accompaniment on a drum and also performed on horseback.

6 Astley’s Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts - the world’s first circus - opened 9 January, 1768.

7 Astley’s circus performers included a strongman called Signor Colpi and a clown called Mr Merryman.

8 Astley established the still-standard diameter of the circus ring as 42-ft.

Astley's later,
grander amphitheatre
9 Astley never called his entertainment a circus. The word was coined by Charles Dibdin and Charles Hughes who established the rival Royal Circus.

10 Astley was invited to perform before King Louis XV of France in 1772.

11 He built France’s first purpose-built circus building, the Amphitheatre Anglais, in Paris.

12 He established circuses in 20 European cities.

13 Astley’s Amphitheatre is mentioned in books by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

14 His name is commemorated in the dance tunes Astley’s Ride, Astley’s Flag and Astley’s Hornpipe.

15 Astley died on 27 January 1814 and was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

For more on the history of the circus and the lives of today’s circus performers read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus by Douglas McPherson

“A brilliant account of a vanishing art form.”
- Mail on Sunday.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

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